Downton Abbey-like style on show at Dublin Horse Show
The elegance of the riders with their poise, immaculate long riding habits and veiled top hats conjure up scenes of Downton Abbey.
But it is behind the scenes that you really appreciate the skills and impressive skills of those who take part in the Intermediate Ladies’ Side Saddle event at the Dublin Horse Show.
For rider, Robyn Catterall (25) from Armagh, there was barely a moment to change as she took part in the Hunters class to immediately gear up for the side saddle event.
It was straight out of the ring, tearing off her tie as she went, as she stood in the sand in her socks in the most impressive quick change ever seen.
She had been sweating in two layers during the first event, having worn her navy side saddle jodhpurs under her hunter jodhpurs to shorten the process.
Within five minutes, she was flawless, in her long riding habit, shining black boots and hat.
It paid off – and she took first place in the hotly contested side saddle.
A full-time software tester in Belfast, Robyn rides for Michael Lewis, from Down, who used t produce horses for side saddle and said that he had made contact with Robyn via Facebook after seeing her jump a metre and a half fence, riding sideways.
“I knew she had what it takes,” he said.
“We’ve been working together for three seasons and we haven’t fallen out yet,” he joked.
First put on a horse at the age of two,Robyn explained that she prefers riding side saddle because it is “something different.”
“It’s so smooth and enjoyable,” she said.
But the habit is a crucial part of the experience, she admitted.
“When I ride a horse side saddle in my normal clothes it feels weird,” she admitted. “Once I’m in the habit it’s different – you feel elegant and you get in the zone.”
It is the simple things that make a difference – like putting your hair in a neat bun, says Robyn, adding that some riders even shave the fine little hairs at the back of their neck for a cleaner look.
But the saddle is the most important component of all, she says. Side saddles are longer and have a lot of filling or flocking to make them more comfortable.
Robyn rides Michael’s horse, Murphy, with a side saddle specially made in England, built on the base of an antique wooden ‘tray’ and stuffed with flocking to suit horse and rider.
“Horses are bigger now than they used to be and it’s very hard to get a wide side saddle but we have one,” said Robyn.
“It makes all the difference,” she said.
The morning had been spent getting her horse, Murphy, ready for the day’s events, using a damp brush to make subtle patterns on his hind quarters and getting his mane into top shape.
After the hunters class, it was straight out of the ring to get into the long riding habit – which has the secret of being short at the back to make them more practical to wear, before giving Murphy a run in the warm up ring to get used to the side saddle.
“It’s not enough time really,” fretted Michael. “He could do with a good 20 minutes.”
But all was well.
“It was hard won,” admitted Robyn afterwards, saying the horse had misbehaved – though crucially, not in front of the judges. "My horse pulled off a great show for the judge," Robyn said.